Dewey shocked by hectic world
Fresh off nearly 17 years of incarceration for a murder he didn’t commit, Robert Dewey last week experienced New York City.
A little more than two weeks since his exoneration in Jacie Taylor’s 1994 murder in Palisade, Dewey, 51, said he’s made one life decision: He prefers the smell of southern pine trees to that of the Big Apple.
“Everybody’s just moving so fast up there ... just like on TV when you see the gates open and the horses are running out,” Dewey said in a phone interview this week with The Daily Sentinel.
Dewey was among seven speakers, all recently exonerated by DNA testing, who spoke May 8 during a celebration in New York City hosted by the Innocence Project, according to Jason Kreag, an Innocence Project attorney who worked with Dewey. The advocacy group, which celebrated 20 years on May 8, helped secure Dewey’s release April 30 in Mesa County after DNA exonerated Dewey in Taylor’s murder.
Dewey was arrested in 1995, convicted at trial in Mesa County in 1996 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“(Dewey) was very clear he’s dead set on helping the cause for the next guy,” Jason Kreag said of Dewey’s May 8 speech.
The Innocence Project also paid the bill for Dewey’s tour of the city. Dewey said his two-day trek included a Yankees baseball game on May 9, a visit to the Statue of Liberty and a visit to the 9-11 Memorial.
Sensory overload for a man jailed continuously since 1995?
Dewey said the pace of life, particularly pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks in the city, was a shock.
“It’s just part of the prison mentality: You don’t cut in front of people and disrespect them,” he said. “Out on the street you have to overlook that.”
“They had a guy (restaurant employee) working in the bathroom who wanted me to tip him $1 for giving me a paper towel,” Dewey said, recalling one New York City dining experience.
“I didn’t understand that. It ain’t my fault he’s hanging out in the bathroom,” Dewey added with a laugh.
Bad back, food stamps
Life moves at a preferable pace in a community just south of Raleigh, N.C., where Dewey now calls home. He declined to specify his current address, but he lives near his girlfriend, Angela Brandenburg, a woman he met while in prison via PenPals.
“I think I’m driving her crazy with 500 questions, still trying to get acquainted with everything ... what’s a dropped call ... what are minutes? There’s all kinds of stuff,” Dewey said. “She’s been my rock.”
Dewey said he can’t work because of a back injury suffered while in prison, for which he received medical care in Grand Junction shortly after his April 30 release, with the bill footed by the Innocence Project. He said he needs surgery to correct back problems, for which he was prescribed painkillers while in Grand Junction.
The Innocence Project bought Dewey a new pair of glasses, which arrived Monday, and some clothing on his recent trip. He said he’s applied for Social Security and welfare benefits through North Carolina.
“I got $160 in food stamps the other day,” Dewey said. “Reality is starting to set in that I’m going to have to do something to support myself.”
Although Dewey said he has civil attorneys, he said the case is different from Tim Masters’, the Colorado man exonerated after serving 10 years in prison for the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick in Fort Collins. Masters later received $10 million in a settlement with Larimer County and Fort Collins.
“The cops there lied, withheld evidence,” he said. “Mine’s totally different.”
That being said, Dewey said he believes he’s owed something by somebody.
“Enough to get on my feet, get in a better home and maybe get a motorcycle and take care of my folks,” Dewey said. “They didn’t give me enough for a cab ride.”
“Just do what’s right,” he added. “They took 17 years of my life for someone I didn’t do. I’ve got nothing.”
Colorado, unlike 27 other states, has no legal mechanism by which prisoners exonerated of crimes can receive compensation, Kreag said.
“In Texas, he would have been able to file a piece of paper with the comptroller and get something right away,” Kreag said.
Dewey expressed gratitude to the many Grand Junction residents who greeted him shortly after he was freed, several of whom approached him at a local Walmart while buying his first non state-issued clothes.
“My hat’s off to Grand Junction,” he said.
Dewey, who was provided his first cellphone after his release, recently sent his first text messages to grandchildren he’s never met.
A grandson, 15, and granddaughter, 17, live in Kansas, he said.
“I’ve seen pictures of them when they were very little,” Dewey said. “As soon as I get enough money to catch a bus, I’m making a run out to Kansas.”
Dewey, who was formerly married, said he had a son, Shawn, who was killed six years ago in a car accident.
“My mom called the prison and told me,” Dewey said. “That’s what bothers me the most with Mr. and Mrs. Taylor (Jacie Taylor’s parents) having to rehash this all again. I know what it’s like to lose a child.”
For now, Dewey, who’s unable to drive, said he’s content to spend most of his time around the house in North Carolina, trying not to ask too many questions while accompanying his girlfriend on frequent trips to a nearby Walmart.
“I get up every morning, go outside for fresh air, take the dog out and walk barefoot in the grass,” he said. “I can smell trees ... see the colors. All we had in prison were dingy greens and walls painted gray.”